Matt C. Abbott
Vatican-acquitted priest: Diocese was unjust
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By Matt C. Abbott
April 23, 2024

I am forgotten, out of mind like the dead; I am like a worn-out tool. – Psalm 31

____________________

Father William C. Graham, pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Duluth, Minnesota (an interesting coincidence: St. Michael’s was also the name of the parish in Dane, Wisconsin, where the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz took place in 1998), was recently returned to active ministry after being acquitted by the Vatican of sexual abuse.

See my March 30 column for links to the background of Graham’s ordeal.

The following is the text of Graham’s homily of April 13 and 14, his first weekend back at his parish.

    Well, as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted …

    Thank you. I’ve been working on that line for the last 95 months.

    The old gospel hymn describes what I see here today: ‘When all God’s children get together, / what a time, what a time, what a time!’ And what a wonderful sight this is to me: all of us together again around book and table, thanking God for the gift of Christ, remembering and celebrating that the Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church.

    Vatican II teaches us that ‘[t]he Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things ‘which were in all the scriptures concerning him’ (Luke 24:27), celebrating the Eucharist in which ‘the victory and triumph of his death are again made present’ [19], and at the same time giving thanks ‘to God for his unspeakable gift’ (2 Cor. 9:15) in Christ Jesus, ‘in praise of his glory’ (Eph. 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit. To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.’ [CSL 6-7]

    We are much like those disciples who, on the road to Emmaus, met Jesus; he was made known to them as he is made known to us: in the telling of the stories and in the breaking of the bread. Those disciples shared the agony of the passion and death of Jesus; we, too, have suffered as the Body of Christ, broken, but called to new life and renewed hope.

    You and I have been through a terrible, traumatizing experience. I was falsely accused and denied both justice and mercy by our local Church. A number of folks have asked why I didn’t just quit and go away. That is not how justice is accomplished; it is not how we seek the Truth, who is Christ, and who will set us free. Doing the right thing is a demanding task. You know that. I have found the path to justice exhausting and worrisome and, let me say, very, very, very expensive. All that we have is our human dignity, and it is our obligation to assert and defend that dignity as we seek the face of God. Pope St. Leo the Great told us of that duty of ours when he said in the fifth century, ‘Christian: remember your dignity!’

    I am deeply sorry that the pursuit of justice was so long and difficult for you here, and for me, and for all who were involved. Those who stood for justice will enjoy what the psalmist promises, that the Lord does wonders for his faithful ones, and hears us when we call upon him. Further, the light of the Lord will shine on us, and he will put gladness into our hearts (Psalm 4).

    The Vatican official who made the last determination of my case spoke out on March 25. He is Archbishop Charles Scicluna, adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; he told Vatican Media that ‘The pope very often repeats this phrase: ‘When one of us suffers, we all suffer.’’ Scicluna added, ‘If there is this attitude of solidarity, if there is the thirst for justice of which Jesus speaks, but also the will to do good, then the law becomes a living instrument, otherwise, like all laws, it could remain a dead letter.’

    I am grateful for the Church’s laws and courts. I received no justice, no comfort and no word of mercy from the Diocese of Duluth during my long ordeal, and often told the bishop, and the previous bishop, that Psalm 31 speaks to my pain: ‘I am like a dead man, forgotten, like a thing thrown away.’

    Pope Paul VI told us that if we want peace, we must work for justice. We who seek Christ among us must understand that justice is the first virtue of both Church and civilization. Without justice, we have no future or no hope. I am grateful to the Vatican, my legal team, my family and friends, and many of the members of this parish, and many former members, who insisted that justice be done. We cannot walk away from injustice and hope that the universe will fix it. Our mission is to build the Reign of God among us; we cannot do so if we ignore the demands of justice. Justice is first and obligatory; we are bound to seek justice; we are called to do charity.

    Jesus himself tells us in today’s Gospel passage why we pursue justice, no matter the cost. Remember that the two disciples who had encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus were telling the others about their experience. ‘While they were still speaking about this, / [Jesus] stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’’

    They were terrified, thinking he was a ghost. When they recognized Jesus, he ate with them, and said: ‘Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’

    Christ ‘claims dominion over all creation, / that He may present to [the] almighty Father, / an eternal and universal kingdom: / a kingdom of truth and life, / a kingdom of holiness and grace, / a kingdom of justice, love, and peace’ (preface of Christ the King).

    We, you and I, are called to be men and women of peace, in imitation of Jesus, with whom we are on the road, and whose Spirit gathers us to himself. Here at St. Michael’s, our immediate task will be to pray together and listen to each other with the ears of our hearts. After that, we will ask each other: Where do we go from here? We can’t have a plan or an agenda yet, but we will move to healing and peace, reconciliation, cooperation with grace, ‘Proclaiming the Gospel in Word, Sacrament, and Service’ (Parish Mission Statement 2015).

    I have heard that some say that this is a time for mourning, or grief or grieving. I do not say that. I say that this is the day that the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it. May The One who began this good work in us bring it to completion in the day of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

____________________

Click here to see the YouTube video of Graham’s Mass and homily.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media, and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)

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